Are you trying to get started with Exclusive Pumping? The information in this guide even applies to occasional pumping, if that's your jam too!
There are a lot of reasons why moms may want to or need to exclusively pump. I am not a person to discourage anyone else regarding their choices, and I’m absolutely the last person to ever shame another mom for something that they do or choose.
Personally, the reason why I exclusively pump with my second baby is because we had some latch issues from the beginning- we had to supplement the formula in the hospital because I had Covid and they had given me Sudafed which basically dried up my milk for the first day or two. Things were a little bit tricky and it was impossible to "just breastfeed". When I had my first baby we also had a couple of issues with breastfeeding, I also did not know how to pump (like, at all) so at that time exclusive pumping wasn’t an easy or doable option for me.
I would like to add that my decision to formula feed my first child was not entirely my own, I had a lot of outside influence and general.. discouragement/misinformation.. that I won’t get into in this post. I only bring that up because I want every other mom to know that it is only their choice! Not their partner, mother, grandmother, in-laws, nobody! Nobody else has the right to choose or influence how they will feed their baby. People can give their bad advice which is almost always unsolicited, but in the end it is your choice. You are in the driver's seat.
Breastfeeding is hard. Exclusive pumping is even harder. Both of these things can be made easier with the proper education and tools. This education should not cost money, I will make that very clear. There’s a lot of gatekeeping out there where people say "oh, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about exclusive pumping in my paid course!" Yes, these people are certified, I myself am in the process of getting certified, and of course my time has value! But so does yours. I would not have paid money to find all the answers I needed, and you should not have to either. Pumping equipment in itself already costs money that we should not have to spend- but we do.
You don’t need to have the most top of the line, trending, most expensive everything. There are of course some thing that have (at least in my case) made pumping an absolute breeze – as much as it can be – and have been worth every penny that they cost. I will make a few product recommendations in this post based off of my own experiences and things that I personally use on a daily basis, but you are absolutely free to go and research and find things that you like for yourself as well.
Now, enough of my seemingly endless word vomit and mini memoir. Here are my basic tips for getting started with exclusive pumping, this also can apply to occasional pumping - though I don’t have any experience with that really.
I’m going to "bottom line" this post sort of like a TL:DR kind of deal – and I’m going to add a basic checklist for those of you who don’t have the luxury of time to read through my super long post. Scroll to the bottom for the summary and good graphics!
This post contains affiliate links. This means that if you click one of my links and make a purchase, I may make a small commission at no additional cost to you. This helps to support my blog and family! Read my full disclosure here.
First and foremost: you can’t pump without a pump!
I have personally been getting my hands on as many as I can to test and review so that I am familiar with their features, their pros and cons, their specs and just general feel of them. At the time that I write this, my top two favorites are the Spectra Synergy Gold for stationary pumping (because this is wall plug only) and my favorite for portability sake and regular/daily use is the Pumpables Genie Advanced. I have quite a few more that I have acquired that I have to test- but these have still remained my favorite based on their features, strength, and general feel. If you get the chance to come back and check, my pump review page is growing. I can also try my best to offer insights and comparisons if you're having trouble deciding what kind of pump you may need.
I recommend that you get a good electric pump that will allow you to be able to get up if you choose to or need to. Newborn babies don’t require you to get up as much as an older baby or toddler will. When that time comes, you will need to get up about 10 times within the first few minutes of your session. Every time. However, if you have a pump that is not wall plug only, you will be able to get up and walk across the room to get the thing that you so desperately need.
On top of a good electric pump I recommend that you have a manual pump that you know how to use in the event of an emergency. This could be a power outage, or something malfunctions on your regular pump and you’re unable to use it. If you have a baby that can’t latch and a pump that doesn’t work, you’re in for a long night until you can get to the store and buy a replacement.
It’s better to be prepared for something that you might not ever need to use, (that was very cheap) then to not have something and really really really need it. A note, the silicone type suction pumps like a haakaa are really not gonna do the job as well as a manual pump would and they are typically equal in price.
I also recommend that you keep at least one set of every replaceable part for your pump on hand at all times because they like to wear out at three in the morning when all the stores are closed. This includes all of your soft parts, and your tubing just in case. If one part fails and you have no back up, the pump cannot function properly!
Here's an example of how often most parts should be replaced. In the diagram, I refer to 'silicone flanges' as specifically the Pumpables Liquid Inserts. Other thicker silicone flanges do not need to be replaced that often!
Use the code SHOP10-TEACHINGMOTHERHOOD for 10% off at Pumpables.
Unfortunately I haven't been given a discount code (yet!) for Spectra. Maybe someday soon! The cheapest way to get this pump would be using a baby registry completion coupon at either Target (with RedCard 5% added if you have that too) or Amazon.
And you may think that by "portable pump" I mean those wearables that rhyme with pillow, twelvie, and tom's toesies. I personally cannot afford those to test, but from the amount that I see being resold and the amount of poor reviews- I can only assume that they are not all they’re cracked up to be. A select few are good but some of the cheaper and more popular ones can actually be very in efficient at removing milk and can end up hurting your supply.
These are not intended for primary use, you need a "real pump". These are a great option to have for going back to work, or using every now and then when you really need to be hands-free and tube free, but I really strongly recommend that you do not rely only on these. Personally I don't think they're worth the price tag, but to each their own.
The second most important thing that you will need in addition to a pump is flanges of course. "What do you mean, Anna? Don't they come with the pump? Why do I need to buy more?"
Well, let me tell you! The ones in the box are typically not the correct size, this is because they can provide one that is too large that everyone can use rather than one that can be too small that only some people can use.
You want to use a measuring tool such as this one here – this is printable and free – to measure your nipples. I’ve read that you should not measure before 37 weeks pregnant as your nipples can still change in size before the baby is born. For those who have already had their babies, measure now! Do it! Also, your size may change over time. Mine has decreased 3 times in 9 months.
I personally prefer soft flanges over hard flanges, such as the Pumpables Liquid Kits, Pumping Pals flanges, or Lacteck flanges.
However, some moms do not respond to silicone and require the hard plastic. The only way to figure out which one is for you is to try both. (Don't worry, you can very likely resell or give away the pair that didn't work out!)
Soft flanges are especially good for elastic nipples -this is where your nipple tissue is "extra stretchy" and will extend to all the way the end of the flange and can even hit the back- I personally had that problem and I actually got some cuts from the back of the flange being so sharp at the edge. I have switched to silicone and never looked back.
You need to be sure that the flange size you have as well fitting, just like when you buy shoes! If your shoes are too big or too small, it hurts to walk. But if they fit right, then you can walk and run pain free! Flange fit is exactly the same. If it’s too small you just simply can’t use them, you’ll get blisters and you won’t have efficient milk removal. If they’re too large they’ll cause the nipples to swell and constrict the milk ducts- which in turn causes an efficient removal, and can’t even decrease supply due to milk being left behind. And that can also be an open door for clogs and mastitis! It's a whole big thing, I find I'm constantly saying "MEASURE YOUR FREAKIN NIPPLES!"
These inserts from Pumpables require much more frequent replacement than the PumpinPals or Lacteck, just a heads up. Monthly for 4+ pumps per day, typically. I believe my discount code of SHOP10-TEACHINGMOTHERHOOD is a single use per person so you'll want to go looking for other codes on the Pumpables Community Facebook page or various pumping pro instagram pages for reordering.
I am currently waiting a response on a discount code from PumpinPals as well.
Lacteck told me to come back when I had 10,000 followers to get a discount code.. I don't know if I'll ever get there, but I believe Pumpmommapump and/or pumpwithpurpose has one posted.
The next most important thing is a hands free pumping bra.
You might think that you don’t need one, and you’d rather keep the 40 bucks. I know, because that was me. I can promise you that you are not meant to sit there for 20+ minutes holding flanges up to your breasts with your hands, with your wrists at a terrible angle.
With a hands-free bra you can just hook up and forget about it. You can read a book, you can use your phone, you can knit a sweater. You can also eat delicious snacks which you will need because breastfeeding makes you as ravenous as a momma bear in springtime.
I have tried a few different brands of pumping bras and these ones are my absolute favorite. I wear them all day every day, and I feel like a million bucks. The first one that I tried was so ugly I took it off every time I was not pumping, because I hated it so much and I couldn’t even wear it under my clothes. (hello super unflattering seams and quad boobs)
These ones, the Amelia Cami, are good enough to be worn as just a shirt when I’m at home. I have five of them and they’re worth every penny, in my opinion. They hold SO WELL onto every possible flange I own and my Legendairy Collection Cups. I plan to wear them after weaning too!
This is another thing that I have gone out of my way to get a discount code for you guys for! (I believe that it can be used more than once if you were to make additional orders.) She offers a lot of other styles, but I personally have only tried the Amelia so I can’t speak to the rest. I love this brand especially because it's run by one mom- in her own house and everything. I love small businesses, and I love mom-run small businesses even more!
Use the code TEACHINGMOTHERHOOD for 10% off at Davin and Adley
If you’re pumping, you may be lucky enough to get a couple feeds ahead of baby. You might even get to freeze some! The feeling of freezing your first bag is not matched by many other things in the world. You’re going to need something to hold milk in when it’s in the fridge, or the freezer, or while traveling.
Below are my personal favorites for using the pitcher method, bags that I freeze, and what I used to carry milk when traveling. I never go farther than an hour from home so I don’t have to worry much past a cooler bag or chiller bottle.
Ps- my good friend makes and sells these funky contraptions called "milk flats" that squeeze your bags SO FLAT for freezing that storing them is a lot easier.
This one is debatable as a necessity of course, but if you're going somewhere far enough that you need to bring extra milk from the fridge, carry all of it in here and then pour out portions into the bottle as needed. Alternatively you can pump and pour fresh milk into this, and carry just one or two readily portioned bottles. Fresh milk is good sitting out longer than cold milk is, so I'd personally keep the cold milk in the chiller and the fresh milk out or at the least in my little lunchbox style cooler (that I bought before the ceres chill that does not stay cold as long). These can also be used as water bottles when they're no longer needed for breastmilk storage.
Use the code TEACHINGMOTHERHOOD for 15% off at Ceres Chill!
If you're hoping that you can just pump "whenever you feel like it" or "whenever you get time", you are sadly outta luck. You need to set alarms for the best times, and keep up with the frequent sessions. Especially in the early days, and try to keep them around the same time each day and the same distance apart each day.
I can’t believe how many moms just pump when they think they get time and then they end up having three sessions a day and losing supply. It truly makes me cry.
It is extremely crucial to pump frequently and on a schedule, especially during the first 12 weeks when you're trying to build and establish your supply. It's so much easier to start off on a good foot than to struggle to build up once it's too late.
I always recommend 8 to 12 sessions in a 24 hour period during the first 12 weeks, though some people think that that is impossible and give me a ton of crap for it.
I pumped 12 times a day for the first 16 weeks, and I survived. You can probably manage it.
If not, you might be using some of the wrong things like the "wall plug only" pump that does not allow you to get up and move and tend to baby if you need to. This is of course not a dig at the moms who can’t do it, everyone is different. As I mentioned before I am the last person who will ever shame another mom, so please don’t take it that way.
If you want to be able to exclusively provide breastmilk for your baby you have to make your body think that it needs as much as you tell it to. (You're telling it with pump sessions, not telepathy).
If you are not replacing every single feed with a pump session, it’s not gonna add up unless you’ve got a natural oversupply. And of course there are some women who have an undersupply- who no matter how many times they pump in a day they just can’t keep up. To those women, I urge you to visit an IBCLC or another certified specialist (CLC, CBS) who may be able to find the source of the problem and help you.
A note: lactation counseling is supposed to be covered by insurance, please check into that if you're going forward with that kind of thing!!
Here is an example of a strict pumping regimen. I also recommend a daily or semi-regular power pump, see the next graphic for how that looks. A power pump is mimicking a hungry baby coming back for more milk, and signals your body to pick up production. You won't see immediate results (like during that session) but the point is to get the message across!
"Bougie" extras that you probably don’t need, but are very nice to have.
Below is a list of things that are apparently debatable as essentials, but I personally enjoy them. Some people tell me that I’m "just trying to push expensive products" and that these things are not necessary for a successful pumping journey.
To each their own, I am not out here with a gun to your head telling you what to buy, I’m just telling you things that I like and offering the opportunity to buy them at a discounted price. I’m not one of those guys in a trenchcoat selling watches in the back alley, I’m just a mom telling other moms for things that make my life easier!
Vibrating massagers, warming massagers, warming pads, etc.
All of these things are certainly not an absolute necessity but are very nice because they can not only help with soreness and engorgement pain, they can also help to shorten pumping sessions by making the milk move more quickly and easily. (think bacon grease running when it's warm versus solidifying more when its not as hot)
A lot of people prefer coconut oil because it's cheaper and has more uses than strictly nipple butter, but I love this stuff. I lube my PumpinPals flanges with it, and I've had to use it to heal nipple damage. Which by the way should not be a regular thing with proper flanges/suction.
You can use TEACHINGMOTHERHOOD for 15% off at Earth Mama Organics.
These are nice to microwave for warmth or freeze for cooling during engorgement or mastitis. (Please see my mastitis 101 post for additional information on that)
LaVie sells these massagers, the curved pair here are also warming (reviews rave over these for cutting pump time down due to milk flowing out faster) and this one below is vibration only, with the nub end being "best for busting clogs". I also recommend taking sunflower lecithin to thin out viscosity of milk to help prevent clogs- but remember to clear supplements/medications with your OBGYN first.
You can use the code TEACHINGMOTHERHOOD for 10% off at LaVie.
Special pump bag.
I bought a special pump bag that I thought was a really good deal on Amazon, and I turned out to not really like it that much. There are some extremely expensive name brand bags out there, but I have not yet pulled the trigger on buying because I don’t go out that much. And when I do, I bring my small pump which does not require an entire bag. However, if you were going to be going back to work and bring a pump with you – I really recommend that you get a bag that’s going to prevent your pump from being damaged during traveling and that’s pretty much all it needs to do. You don’t need to buy one of those $200 vegan leather bags that are trendy, you just need something that’s got a designated pocket for a pump that’s going to protect it from being smacked/scratched on stuff, and to hold a cooler or chiller bottle to put milk in after it’s pumped.
I don't currently have a recommendation for a special "pump bag" but I do have a diaper bag that I like a lot, the Skip Hop Forma. I plan to take a look at special bags in the future.
I would like to add a little statement on galactagogues and promising "magic pill" supplements.
If you ever see an advertisement that shows full milk bottles with a product next to it that’s promising to increase your milk supply, they are preying on you (these are target ads that come up after searches on milk supply issues, FACT) and it is not a "one size fits all" Some supplements work for some people, some don't work, and some can even have an opposite effect. Fenugreek, for example, has a large percentage of positive reviews but also a decent chunk of negative reviews (because some people, myself included, see a huge loss of supply when taking it).
Do you see here how I searched "increase milk supply" on Pinterest, and there's a clickbait post with full milk bottles and then next to it is that sponsored ad by Majka? That brand by the way, sells super tiny jars of protein powder for like $60, and says you need to take it for X amount of time before seeing results, which if you fall for it, is like two jars? This is not me dogging that company by any means, but that ad is targeted to pop up from that keyword search.
I'll say it again- These supplements CAN work, but are NOT a ONE SIZE FITS ALL. Be wary of that when trying them out. I personally bought this sampler set from Legendairy Milk and so far have noticed a small increase (nothing crazy) from the Liquid Gold, nothing from milkapalooza, and have not yet tried pump princess. If you want to buy these, check your local Target for them before paying for shipping. You can also use a Target RedCard for 5% off. (I think that's cheaper than using my 15% off Legendairy code which may just cover shipping. That code is TEACHINGMOTHERHOOD if you want to crunch the numbers yourself.)
Are there lactogenic foods that are known to help boost milk supply? Of course! It’s freaking science! But to sell these expensive "magic pills" and snacks at such a high price is just mean.
There are certain superfoods that not only can increase your supply, but also help you get many extra nutrients that you may be missing in your diet. This is similar to people insisting that coconut water was the magic pill that boosted their supply when really they were just short on electrolytes and hydration!
Example: Barley and barley malt are have the highest concentration of something called beta glucan, which increases production and circulation of prolactin. (In humans and some animals!) and prolactin is one of the milk making hormones. Source: Boost Your Breastmilk, Alicia Simpson
Alright, that about does it. Did you get everything on your list? If you have any more questions, try skimming some of my other pumping resources such as:
I also encourage you to come join me on Instagram- I post daily information, polls, question boxes, and more. I'm also just a message away if you were to need any help!